New York, NY– July 17, 2012 – The Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) today reported that its recent conference in Aspen, Colorado, attracted a record 325 delegates from 40 nations. Held for the first time in collaboration with another organization, the international think-tank the Aspen Institute, delegates at the sixth annual conference gathered to explore and debate the most innovative, imaginative ways forward for the worldwide spa and wellness industry.

The eclectic, idea-packed agenda of 50 presentations and panels was purposely designed to shake the industry up. Delegates heard from a former President, an Academy award-nominated actress, a former U.S. Surgeon General, a top Google exec, the Governor of Colorado and Disney Imagineering’s former chair. They learned about “big picture” economic and geopolitical trends set to transform the world. They identified emerging industry opportunities from coaching to mental wellness, while receiving crash courses in the latest brain, willpower, “happiness” and telomere science that suggest entirely new industry directions. And they learned from “innovation teachers” like famed expert, John Kao, whose dynamic presentation using jazz piano taught delegates how to unlock the creative process.

Although the conference is designed as an intimate, invite-only event, the Summit’s mission is to support the growth of all 75,000 spas worldwide. So, the GSWS announced today that PowerPoints, session notes, video and numerous research reports are now available to all at:

“So much talent, from so many different perspectives, industries and cultures, was assembled in Aspen, challenging us to think in profoundly new ways. A true idea-fest, it provided some much-needed inspiration and conceptual grist to start imagining what ‘Spa 2.0’ might actually look like,” said Philippe Bourguignon, co-chair of the 2012 conference agenda. “Experts and entrepreneurs from outside our sector were stunned by our industry’s size, complexity and opportunities ahead – while at the same time pointing out how limiting the word/concept ‘spa’ may now be, given the vastly expanded health and wellness opportunities before us.”

Looming Geo-Political Sea-Changes Demand Innovation: Keynotes from economic and political heavy-hitters like Elizabeth Stephenson of McKinsey & Co.; former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona; Former co-chair of the World Economic Forum, Philippe Bourguignon; former President of Costa Rica, Jose Figueres-Olsen; and Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper all explained diverse “big picture” economic, demographic and environmental changes looming over the next decades. Delegates digested the radical shift in economic power towards emerging markets that’s underway: i.e., 50% of GDP growth in the next decade will come from non-OECD nations, while global per-capita-income in 200 emerging markets will double by 2020. They digested future environmental realities, like the 30%+ increase in total, global resource consumption (oil, water, etc.) expected by 2020 – and the health crisis realities, including the spread of preventable, chronic diseases worldwide, which will cost the U.S. alone $5.5 trillion over the next few years. And they learned that if population growth has been the #1 driver of economic (and spa industry) growth in mature markets these last decades, this will decidedly not be the case going forward. Growth will have to come from innovation.

Industry Opportunities Identified: Dozens of innovative spa/wellness industry opportunities were presented, and hot-button ones included:

Spas as “Telomere Health Centers”: Telomeres are the caps of our chromosomes, and medical studies increasingly reveal that their health/length is a crucial window into a person’s actual “cellular age,” and a predictor of diseases like cancer and heart disease. Studies also show that stress reduction, a healthy diet, exercise and mindfulness practices can lengthen telomeres – exactly what spas provide. With telomere testing launching to the general population in the next year, the tracking of the impact of various spa/wellness therapies on telomere health could become a reality. And as the evidence mounts that core spa/wellness approaches positively modify telomere health, a natural industry opportunity arises.

Mental Wellness & Happiness, Brain Performance & Creativity: From top doctors on Aspen Institute’s Health Innovation panel, to celebrity Mariel Hemingway, a recurrent topic was spas’ major (mostly unleveraged) opportunity in mental wellness, given that in places like America, 50% of people suffer from stress and one in eight from depression. And with the “science of happiness” an increasingly hot topic (i.e., happy people are proven to have better physical health, earn more, etc.), spas, as the healing industry uniquely focused on feeling good/pleasure, have fresh opportunities within their traditional focus. A presentation on the latest in brain science also suggested that spas could be re-perceived as places where creativity best gets accomplished, given that stress is the #1 threat to the brain’s “innovative thinking” center. Delegates learned that stress-reduction and mindfulness approaches can actually “re-wire” clients’ brains and create peak performance thinking conditions. (So, if spas have traditionally been places of escape from work/thinking, a new opportunity to reimagine them as creativity/thinking “labs” now arises.)

Wellness Coaching: Given the global “diabesity” pandemic, traditional health education is clearly not working, while medical studies show coaching is the superior model to elicit long-term behavioral change. While there are already roughly 100,000 coaches in the U.S., the profession worldwide remains at the early, chaotic stage. But standards are coming (like the American National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches), and local coaching “networks” are being formed. Integrating wellness coaching represents a major industry opportunity, but spas need to move beyond their traditionally short-term thinking, to focus on long-term client results and programs.

Employee Wellness: With employer-provided healthcare costs spiraling out of control (in the U.S. they will double in ten years), and hundreds of studies showing employee wellness programs reduce costs and boost productivity, two in three larger businesses worldwide have now embraced a formal employee wellness strategy. And with stress-reduction the #1 employer goal worldwide, spas are a very natural “fit” for the $30 billion-plus workplace wellness industry.[1] But the industry needs to better communicate their total health-focused package (i.e., massage, fitness, meditation, yoga and nutritional counseling, etc.), along with their unique status as the healthy, desirable incentive to keep employees on healthy regimes.

Technology, Gadgets & Gaming: New technologies and the industry opportunities they present were a key topic: from Google’s head of retail explaining that spas need to better embrace all the spawning, cheap and easy customer communications technologies available, whether incentivizing people to “check-in” at places like Facebook or foursquare; creating YouTube videos of facilities, treatments and products; or ensuring easy online booking. Opportunities in the new worlds of wellness gaming and gadgets (from biometric monitoring devices to mobile apps) – and in other emerging online spa-client engagement platforms that forge more ongoing, supportive connections – were also hot topics.

Empowering Willpower: The latest from the science of willpower was presented, revealing that a) willpower is a limited brain resource, like a muscle that gets fatigued b) creating habits works best c) tackling multiple behavior changes, too fast leads to failure, and d) that glucose is critical for the brain to exercise self-control – severely questioning “crash,” short-window lifestyle change or dieting models. Spas have a new opportunity to square their programs with the self-control science (i.e., removing temptations, not over-taxing client willpower/decision-making and implementing mindfulness programs proven to build this “muscle”), to become the place where truly sustainable health changes and weight loss can get accomplished.

Reaching Younger People: Numerous medical experts argued that the industry needs to focus far more on children, and reach people far younger, given that lifestyle behaviors (diet, exercise) begin cementing by age two. (And given the global childhood obesity surge underway, with 155 million overweight, and 45 million obese, children worldwide.[2]) Spas have a largely untapped opportunity to create more children’s programming specifically focused on developing solid, lifelong wellness habits.

Community: Medical experts also explained how, despite (or perhaps because of) our “wired” world, people are suffering from loneliness at unprecedented rates, and that isolation is a disease that leads to serious health problems. Spas have a natural opportunity (as trusted places of “touch”) to address this problem creatively, but haven’t yet capitalized on their potential as places of true community.

Dr. Joseph Hutter, Fellow at the Institute for Health Care Delivery Research and a panelist on the Aspen Institute session, summed up many of these industry ways-forward: “Spas have got to stop selling a checklist of isolated services, and start offering a total way to live. And when they become more complete and accessible wellness advocates, educators and providers, this industry could go from being mere enclaves, to beachheads, of innovation.” Leading thinker on innovation and enterprise transformation, John Kao, agreed: “Spas need to move from the ‘event-driven’ model and create much more sustainable connections and experiences.”

New Research: With last year’s delegate poll revealing that “training/education” was the industry’s #1 obstacle to growth, for 2012 the GSWS sponsored SRI International’s “Spa Management Workforce & Education: Addressing Market Gaps.” The key piece of research unveiled this year, its findings represent an industry wake-up call:

95% of industry leaders face challenges in hiring spa managers/directors with the right qualifications.

While there are 130,000-180,000 global spa managers today, there are only 4,000 students currently enrolled in some form of spa management education program.

Even top industry executives have almost no knowledge of the education landscape: only 1 in 5 could name ONE spa management school.

Industry as Job Creator: Keynote speaker Colorado Governor Hickenlooper noted, “…that 49 out of 50 U.S. governors, and the vast majority of senators are concerned about jobs” – and unemployment is, of course, also a serious problem in the eurozone. As the spa/wellness sector grows, the demand for more (and better trained) spa management professionals, therapists and aestheticians is also booming. So, starting to aggressively tackle the serious industry education challenges would represent not only a huge boon to spas, but to economies worldwide. More findings from the new SRI research will be released next week.

Access SRI’s full report: